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Is this high time for QUAD Plus Diplomacy?

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On March 20, 2020, the Quadrilateral Dialogue (QUAD) member countries, including Australia, Japan, India, and the United States, met through a video conference for discussing collective actions against COVID-19 pandemic. Initiated by the US deputy secretary of state Stephen Biegun, the meeting was unique due to the presence of like-minded democracies like Vietnam, New Zealand, and South Korea. The same group met again on March 27 and further exalted their agenda for a concerted opinion on the survival of concerned economies hit badly by the pandemic.

This alliance is termed as QUAD Plus across academic communities, confirming the restructuring of geopolitical equations in the Indo-Pacific region. Conversely, lack of integration among the whole existing ball of wax poses severe concerns over institutionalizing the QUAD Plus. In the current strategic environment, China has active multi-domain disputes with littorals in the Indo-Pacific. It is high time for compatible democracies to obliterate differences for attaining more significant strategic interests for a free and open Indo-Pacific.

In 2007 the then Japanese premier Shinzo Abe initiated the creation of a multilateral forum of democracies on the conception of Democratic Peace. As pointed out by Prof. Brahma Chellaey of Centre for Policy Research, that the Quadilteral Security Dialogues lays their foundation in Democratic Peace, a widely discussed theory in International Relations states that democratic states rarely go to war against each other. Nevertheless, after QUAD’s formation in 2007, the subsequent years have shown negative growth for the grouping. The same reason formulated the essence of the framework also played an essential role in its early demise; China’s Economic rise.

In February 2008, Australia withdrew from a joint naval exercise by QUAD countries and Singapore after Chinese Diplomatic Protests. The power change in Japan by replacing Abe with a pro-Beijing PM Yasuo Fukuda also triggered the disintegration of the newbie coalition. After 2008, the 31st ASEAN summit held at manila in 2017 viewed the rebirth of the forum and subsequently developed to foreign minister-level by 2019.

The coercive posturing of China in the Indo-Pacific by employing multimodal strategies to assert their national interest causes genuine security concerns over regional giants. This arisen discussion on the need for an extended quadrilateral security dialogue to balance China and to reinstate peace in the South and the East China Seas in compliance with the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

China’s economic rise enhanced its influential position in low-income economies of South Asia and Southeast Asia. PRC’s investments diverged into infrastructure, connectivity, and development cooperation. This investment indulges the economies into a debt trap, afterwards directs them to take stands on Beijing’s interest. In 2012, ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) failed to issue a joint declaration against China’s construction activities in the Scarborough shoal after Cambodia’s refusal. This refusal is noticeable and points to the fact of how china is using its economic might to legitimize their illegitimate actions. Moreover, China restricts its dependant countries engagement in multilateral organizations which have the intentions to balance Chinese actions.

However, this conception is changing recently; more nations stated about the aggressive behaviour of Beijing openly. The Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, set up a new wing exclusively for Indo-Pacific in 2019. The same year the ASEAN published an outlook on Indo-Pacific. This pin-down new dynamics in shaping Indo-Pacific politics. Parlance with these developments, capitalizing shared interests is the key to address the issues.

This is high time for a reoriented QUAD leadership extended with new members for effective strategy building in deriving inclusive approach against the pandemic. China, with its expansionist policies amid the pandemic, necessitates the need for an extension and participation of the economies which are dependant economically on PRC in the unofficial QUAD-Plus meetings, reflects this.

Australia accounted for 250% more of its trade plus with china than the total trade surplus. Furthermore, 31% of the total exports from Australia concentrated on China in 2018. A country relies mainly on trade with China openly stood against the spread of the virus and been vocal for an international probe for investigating the origin of the virus. Same as Australia, New Zealand which shares similar instincts with China in trade also signalled deviance by endorsing the Indo-Pacific officially rather than Asia-Pacific which they often referred to earlier.

The recent troubles in diplomatic relations between South Korea and Beijing over the stationing of THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missiles in Seoul also prompted their participation in QUAD Plus virtual dialogue. This issue raised concern regarding the monitoring capacity of THAAD missiles to oversee China’s activities. 

For India and Vietnam, both are victims of China’s expansionist politics amid the pandemic. The skirmishes at Galwan valley and loss of 20 military personnel trigger New Delhi to take leadership in multilateral forums to effectively make decisions that they shied away from doing so in the past. Vietnam lost its two vessels in the last couple of months in the South China Sea, which is rammed and sank.

Japan’s new policy to diversify the risks and to reduce the over-dependence of Japanese firms in manufacturing units of China is the latest example. China’s surveillance cutters patrolling in the disputed Senkaku islands also induced Tokyo’s actions. Abe hopes the new policies yield more on security and strategic aspects and to endow more opportunities for medium-sized firms in Japan. 

Recently, India stated their interest to include Australia in the Malabar naval exercises. This change has immense importance on the grounds of the United States dipping presence after its withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2017 and the prospective impact of COVID-19 in the future of its deployments in the South China Sea. For a rules-based order in Indo-Pacific, the role of the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative is cunning. Still, the herculean task will be to institutionalize QUAD Plus coupled with expected economic risks posed by China. There are prospects for comprehending the idea of QUAD plus to flatten the lopsided power distribution in Indo-Pacific in the current strategic environment.

Kannan R Nair is a Research Fellow at the Eurasian Research and Analysis Institute. He was previously associated with the National Institute of Advanced Studies and Global Schools Program. Currently pursuing his Integrated Masters in Political Science at the Central University of Pondicherry

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Sujit S Nair – Creating diplomatic ties between Europe and India

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Sujit S Nair., FRSA, the Chairman of Europe India Centre for Business & Industry (EICBI), is an accomplished international trade and relations professional with expertise in the UK- India and EU India corridor. Over the past eleven years, he has organised 22 Major summits at British Parliament in London and 3 Major summits at European Parliament in Brussels to promote relations between India and the EU as well as between India and the UK, in addition to other activities like delegations’ visits, virtual interactions etc.

Sujit is also an entrepreneur with interest in the beauty sector. Along with his wife, Lakshmi Menon, they run a social impact venture called Face Palette in Kerala, India, that uses Makeup as a tool to take women on a journey to employability and entrepreneurship, equipping them with a flexitime skillset like makeup artistry that helps them to balance their personal and professional commitments.

Please tell us more about your work at Europe India Centre for Business Industry. 

Europe India Centre for Business and Industry (EICBI), managed by Sivaleen Foundation for Developed India, is an independent, multilateral organisation promoting trade and relationships in the UK India corridor and EU India corridor. EICBI was formed to make EU/ UK companies aware of the business opportunities in India and vice versa. EICBI hosts projects and international forums to promote specific business and geopolitical initiatives.

We create awareness and opportunities for our stakeholders through our physical summits, virtual events, an annual listing of EuropeIndia40 leaders and delegation visits of European MPs to India. This year 2022, celebrates 60 years of establishment of diplomatic relations between India and the European Union (EU), and EICBI has been organising a series of activities as part of the EUIndia60 Campaign.

What are some key industries where we are seeing Europe and India collaboration currently? 

For EICBI, our European activities focus on promoting collaboration in the UK India corridor and EU India corridor.

In the UK India corridor, the top sectors of interest for UK companies were India’s industrial, business services, technology, consumer retail and e-commerce. The top sectors of interest for Indian companies in the UK were food and drink, creative and media, environment, infrastructure and transportation, biotechnology and pharmaceutical.

In the EU India corridor, textiles, leather, pharma, sports goods, some agri products, handicrafts, and handlooms are some of the critical industries from India that have a significant presence in the EU. In the case of EU companies in India, key industries are in Automotives, Chemicals and Business Services Sector.

Tell us more about your work as an RSA Connector. 

As the RSA connector based in India, I am a point of contact for fellows in India. I also scout for people doing great work in India and put forth their nominations for the RSA fellowship network.

How has being a part of RSA created value in your life? 

I have been a fellow of the RSA for nearly a decade. Being an RSA fellow helps me be part of a diverse network of like-minded people and expand my work. Also, as part of my work, I meet many highly credible leaders and stakeholders in the EU India/ UK India corridor. The fellowship of the RSA helped to increase my credibility in this network.

How can the RSA Fellowship create value for people who are not based in the UK? 

RSA fellows outside the UK must actively use the RSA social network to connect with other RSA fellows in their region. This will help to meet potential fellows and explore collaborations with them.

How do you envision India – UK partnership in the upcoming years with the change in Prime Ministerial Candidate in 2022? 

India – UK partnership will continue to thrive irrespective of who will become the Prime Minister in 2022. India-UK relations are on a high trajectory, and there have been a series of discussions and interactions between political leaders, government officials and other stakeholders from the UK and India. There is also a strong political will to get the Free Trade Agreement signed in the next few months. UK PM Boris Johnson’s strong support for signing FTA with India and his special friendship with Indian PM Narendra Modi did help in sorting out several issues between India and the UK. As the new PM might take a bit of time to get up to date with the issues, I assume that UK India FTA might be delayed by a few months, but I do not see any adverse changes to India UK partnership due to the change of the Prime Minister in the UK.

What are your plans for the future? 

I hope to continue pursuing my work in promoting UK India and EU India relations in the foreseeable future. When compared to the EU India corridor, the UK India corridor has a greater number of stakeholders who are actively working in promoting relations between the regions. I believe that there is a lot more work to be done in connecting people and leveraging opportunities in these regions.  As I also run a beauty venture with my wife, I hope to continue Face Palette’s work in supporting more women in India to be financially independent.

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Asad Lalljee on cultural diplomacy

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Asad Lalljee is SVP, Essar Group, CEO, Avid Learning and Curator, Royal Opera House, Mumbai. Prior to relocating to India, Asad worked for 14 years as one of the ‘Mad Men’ advertising executives on New York’s Madison Avenue. He was with McCann-Erickson, and earlier with Hill Holiday, a subsidiary of advertising giant In 2018, he was inducted into the prestigious FICCI Art and Culture Committee. He has previously worked for companies like McCann-Erickson and Hill Holiday (IPG) in New York. He holds a B.A. Economics (St. Xavier’s College) and an M.A. Global Marketing Communications (Emerson College, Boston).

What does your work at Avid Learning look like? 

My tryst with Avid Learning was nothing less than a serendipitous one. After 14 years of working as a Mad Man in Madison Avenue when I came to Mumbai, I was introduced to Avid Learning. Since then, by imbibing a simple mantra that I lived by so far- Learning Never Stops- I took a modest year old continuing education program and started to create content and programs around the arts (Applied, Visual and performing).

Today Avid Learning has grown into one of Mumbai’s leading public programming platforms and is firmly entrenched in the country’s wider cultural ecosystem of which I am the CEO.

Over the years, under my aegis, AVID has gained a reputation for curating thought provoking, innovative and path-breaking content that is intellectually and creatively stimulating and engages with a variety of topical subjects and trends. Our thoughtfully curated and diverse events embrace the spirit of collaboration to bring together the best of Indian and international writers, artists, intellectuals, cultural experts, policymakers and industry leaders across Visual Art, Literature, Culture and Heritage, Education, Design & Technology and the Performing Arts through engaging and dynamic formats like panel discussions, workshops & master classes, roundtables, lecture demonstrations, festival platforms, symposiums & conferences, multidisciplinary performances and walkthroughs.

Tell us more about your role at the Royal Opera House? 

In 2016, I was appointed as the curator of the newly restored Royal Opera House, Mumbai where my role consists ofcuration of eclectic and multidisciplinary programming. Today Royal Opera House has positioned itself as not just a spectacular location and heritage landmark, but more so as a proactive partner and catalyst in the propagation and revival of arts and culture in the city. Apart from the venue playing host to performances across several genres of music and theatre and presenting unique comedy and fashion shows on its grand stage, AVID has depersonalised the space by also bringing in Literature through book launches, Art through interdisciplinary performances, discussions, pop-ups and a robust arts initiative.

How did your experience at Ad agencies in New York create a base for your current work in India? 

It is always believed that Advertising is just a form of Arts. After spending 14 years in Advertising at NYC and having worked with some of the biggest brands, I have learned that power to connect with target audiences lies in leveraging a multitude of creative tactics. 

In the same way, at AVID I have continued to adapt the fundamentals of advertising, technology, brand elements and social media for my campaigns and create new forms of engagement touchpoints audiences. My aim is to make culture cool, accessible, inspirational to not just the few handful communities  but for kids, for new voices for nascent talent from all borders.

What are some projects you see yourself working on for the rest of 2022? 

In 2022, We will continue to curate a multiverse and hybrid programming module, based on current industry trends, and learnings from COVID-era practices, this financial year, Avid Learning aims to continue to build its programming platform into an integrated hybrid model which features both virtual and in person programs. Our focus this year will also be on strengthening our cultural diplomatic ties and creating newer platforms and opportunities for artists across borders to come and re-engage with arts post the gap of 2 years.

We have also planned to partner with Start Art and Kala Ghoda Arts Festival to present sustainability-related conversations and discussions on Mumbai’s diasporic communities and heritage. We also have in the pipeline ‘The (Un)Convention’, a day long production featuring performances and presentations by industry and some of the best artists in the country.

How can we promote culture and arts further in India? 

I have always believed in the power of cultural diplomacy to widen horizons and broaden minds and have been applying it to my work at AVID as well. I believe that by leveraging our local and international relationships we can bring the best of International Art, Culture and Design to our city and our audiences. This has always been my focus in promoting Arts and Culture further in India.

What are three social causes you feel passionate about and want to amplify?

I have always believed in the power of the arts in impacting great social change and have regularly offered our support and platforms for social advocacy. At Royal Opera House, Mumbai, I have brought on stage various differently-abled groups and artistes. We had a fantastic visually impaired orchestra perform on stage, displayed beautiful braille art, and many such events. We have also aligned with powerful annual socio-diplomatic initiatives like International Day of the Girl Child and International Women’s Day and supported significant campaigns like UN Women’s HeforShe and One Billion Rising.

In 2022, I pulled together an elaborate series of presentations, panel discussions and workshops called Sustainability NOW with an aim to convert audiences into change-makers and custodians of a greener tomorrow. Under this umbrella, we have had over 40 thought-provoking programmes.

I am personally passionate about growing and supporting the Arts Education landscape here in India,  Being a parent, I have realised the importance of quality education and the power of the arts to mold children.  Keeping that in mind, we have programmed numerous edutaining events for kids – from hosting children’s literature festivals annually to organising arts pedagogy roundtables and publishing an illustrated children’s book to engagingly teach them about sustainability.

The newly Coral Woman book was one such effort to empower the future custodians of the earth through the power of arts.

Which are some books that have influenced you personally? 

Reading equipped me with many professional and life lessons. I remember devouring books whenever I got a chance. Three books stand out for me which helped me through my advertising years in New York were – AdCultUSA by James Twitchell, The anatomy of Buzz by Emanuel Rosen, and Straight from the Gut by Jack Welch.

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Reflecting on Elon Musk’s Acquisition of Twitter and China’s Twitter Diplomacy

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The CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk, has always been an ambitious business magnate who actively expands into different businesses to realise his visions. Recently, his sudden offer of purchasing and privatising Twitter for 44 billion US dollars has shocked the world. Since Musk has strong business ties with China and often praises China effusively, this proposal has aroused widespread fear that Twitter will end up being a platform for China to spread its propaganda.

Although the deal was once “temporarily on hold” and is now “terminated” because of Musk’s concern about the prevalence of spam accounts, the international reactions to the takeover are reflecting the strategic importance of social media platforms to China. The privatisation of social media platforms could, in fact, foster China’s Twitter Diplomacy and shake international politics. Thus, we must keep an eye on the relationships between the business sector and foreign governments.

Twitter’s Outstanding Outreach Capabilities

As an influential social media platform with millions of users, Twitter offers strong outreach capabilities, which allows messages to be spread across the world. Users can also share their comments or engage in debates with other users on a certain topic. Meanwhile, the retweet function helps users disseminate information with just a few clicks, while the hashtag function helps the users to reach a high coverage of audience rapidly, regardless of whether the audience has followed the users. For instance, by adding the hashtag #pancake in the tweet, international audiences can also see the tweet in their search results of #pancake. Therefore, Twitter has become an attractive platform for politicians or governments to spread political messages and shape discussions. In particular, the former United States President Donald Trump created a large number of tweets to draw attention, mobilise support, and issue orders.

China’s Weaponized Use of Twitter

While China “had almost no diplomatic presence on Twitter’ a few years ago, China has gradually realised the benefits of using Twitter as a diplomatic weapon.

In 2018, China finally established its first official account on Twitter (Chinese Foreign Ministry, @MFA_China) to engage with the global audience. China is possibly using automation and bot accounts to retweet their political messages, influence public conversations, and spread their propaganda as well. To fully utilise Twitter as a propaganda tool, China also creates clickbait content or promotes conspiracy theories to capture international users’ attention.

In particular, China was increasing its use of Twitter when it faces international pressure stemming from human rights suppression in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, the Sino-US trade war, and the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, the spokesman of China’s Foreign Minister, Zhao Lijian, has tweeted a conspiracy theory that the Covid-19 virus actually originates in the United States. Subsequently, a wave of #USAVirus tweets is sweeping across Twitter to support this claim.

Following the increasing tension between China and the international community brought by the Russian-Ukraine War, China is likely to make use of Twitter as its battlefield with its rivals, so as to craft the image that China is become suppressed or discriminated against by the Western hegemons.

Why Does Privatisation Matter?

This tendency to convey biased messages on Twitter to defend China’s reputation can be arguably encouraged by Musk’s proposal of privatising Twitter. Since Musk has friendly relations with China and he has been actively expanding into the Chinese market, critics argue that Musk could face pressure from the Beijing government, which could force Musk to allow China to track opponents, bolster its propaganda, suppress criticism, and spread disinformation. This has given us a warning that vested business interests of technological giants with autocratic countries can seriously influence the development of global politics.

Musk’s deal is appearing to be telling us the fact that a wealthy and powerful giant can easily take over social media platforms to realise his aspiration or accomplish some political goals. When social media platforms are arbitrarily controlled by individuals with inextricable affiliations with autocratic countries, they can be put vulnerable to the dictatorships’ intervention. Privatisation of Twitter thus could make it easier for China to continue its political advertising or “manipulate” public opinions by creating and controlling inauthentic accounts, although such promotions are supposedly banned by Twitter to contain China’s expansion. More disinformation and propaganda could arise, while Twitter would not take action against it. This will increase the effectiveness of Twitter diplomacy in using biased messages to persuade people to support the autocratic regime.

Under the aforementioned high volume and rapid dissemination of tweets, China can dominate the discussions and create an illusion that the world leans toward China. Seeing more and more pro-China posts, the public may mistakenly think that pro-China opinions are the dominating views in society. Accordingly, the international audience will fail to filter propaganda, while developing a more positive attitude toward China and a more hostile attitude towards the West. Therefore, the privatisation of social media can have a far-reaching impact on public opinions on geopolitics.

We Must Stay Alert

In this technological era, the digital sphere will certainly become a bloodshed battlefield for different countries to carry out their digital diplomacy. Following China’s increasing aggression and familiarity with Twitter diplomacy, Twitter is emerging as a strategic tool for countries to confront each other. If social media cannot be freed from political intervention from specific countries, it will become a biased platform for autocratic countries to spread their propaganda and distorted information. While we can be relieved for a while since Musk’s deal is now terminated, we have to stay alert to the potential impacts brought by social media platforms’ business ties with certain countries on international affairs.

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